06-29-2010 08:56 PM - edited 07-07-2010 09:24 PM
Something I had been wanting to try for a few years now, just to see if I could do it and
maybe have a server machine in the basement. I had bought a std VL 600MT in 2004 off ebay
because I needed an extra PC for some training related stuff. It was PIII 800 version, 256
RAM, 30GB, dying hard drive, etc. Over the years I tinkered with it, adding RAM, changing
out the lowly pwr supply, etc. After recently upgrading my main machine I had a left over
P4 CPU, a GB of DDR400 RAM and various drives laying around and I thought, what the heck,
let's see if this can work.
I always thought that my Vectra was one of the quietest (with that passive SECC CPU)
well-designed (for its time) and extremely well-documented PC's I had ever owned. It was
un-robust I will admit, but if one didn't throw more at it than it was designed for it
gave good reliable service. The design was always sort of amazing to me in its low-key
way. It was one of the nicest most upgradeable boxes I had seen coming from a corporate PC
environment. No fans but it had that little duct thingy that let the hot air passively be
drawn out of the box from the SECC processor. And was this thing well-documented? Today
you can still get everything you need for it online, service manuals, quick install
guides, part numbers etc. I think this was one of the last machines that was part of the
old Hewlett Packard's service and reliability era. The drives all came on nice
interchangeable guides/sliders, and even when I accidently fried the floppy drive, I was
able to take one from an ancient AT box I had and, after unmounting the proprietary Vectra
floppy frame from the case, I installed it into the box and it looked like it belonged
Again, the thing was so quiet, it almost made me think someone must have put a lot of
intentionality into the overall design: no fans (not even the original pwr supply had one
I seem to recall), passive-cooled PIII proc and decent machinings and plastic. Although
hugely more robust even with this moderate upgrade, it's nowhere near the quietness of the
My main concern though, from the viewpoint of a total gutting, is would a standard ATX
motherboard fit the Vectra box? It ended up that the box is totally ready for ATX 12"x9.6"
or 12"x 8.6" ( slightly smaller form-factor std ATX). Probably other ATX specs too but
those for sure.
I ended up buying a used AOpen AX4SPE-N socket 478 MB ATX (12"x8.6"). The fit matched the
original Vectra MB and was perfect right down to the standoffs and the new AOpen I/O
bracket. This AOpen has 6 PCI slots and every single one of them was useable in terms of
the fit to the back of the Vectra box. The AGP slot was perfect too. IOW, you can really
load this one up. For the PWR supply I ended up using an old Antect Truepower 380 that I
had in storage. Perfect fit on that too and you could put any modern power supply in
there, it seems to be perfectly standard.
Here's what I ended up with after some trial and error and, as you can tell, a lot of
orphans from the original Vectra plus others went into this:
1. MB AOpen AX4SPE-N
2. RAM 2x 512 MB DDR SDRAM (400MHZ 3200) sticks
3. Antec Truepower 380 PWR supply
4. Seagate 7200.7 Barracuda 120GB SATA for the system drive
5. Samsung SP0411 40GB IDE (for a spare drive for some data--it's small, but it was just
6. Aluratek 1TB ESATA-attached for a psuedo-server setup data drive
7. Pioneer DVR-106 DVDRW
8. Older HP 8100 CDRW
9. 250MB ZIP drive
10. Floppy drive
1. ATI Radeon 9250 128MB AGP video card (passive cooled)
2. Linksys WMP300N wireless N network card
3. Creative Soundblaster Live 24 bit soundcard
4. Rosewill ESATA card
5. PIR-133 IDE add-on card
The system runs quite smoothly overall and boots fast using Windows 2000 Pro (it would run
XP just as well also).
One of the "gotchas" was the cooling issue. The Vectra has only one small fan opening on
the back in which I have had a small Antec fan running (in the Vectra days the need for
cooling was minimal as the proc was passive) but I have come to realize that with a
somewhat hot running Northwood P4 I was going to have to watch the heat. And not only for
the proc but for the drives and cards. I added another 120MM fan to the box and stood it
up at the front of the case (on the bottom) blowing in and it seems to do a good job drawing air from
the front openings of the case and blows over the Seagate and everything else in its way
and hopefully the little Antec fan grabs some of that heat and passes it out the back.
Another problem area was the hard drive situation. The little Vectra drive cage will hold
a SATA drive just fine (along with a second HD) but the way a standard SATA power and data
plug go in, when you close the case it really presses into those connectors on the back of
the drive and it just seemed unwise to put the SATA in it (the Samsung was
installed there w/no prob). I know you can get sideways SATA cables (not sure if
you can get sideways pwr) but this whole exercise was to go ultra-cheap so what I did was
to simply put the SATA drive in a standard modern single drive holder (the kind you use to
slide a drive into a modern box sideways) and just put it onto the floor of the box. It
ends up getting some fan flow from the 120MM and temps for it have stayed around 30C.
The processor is sticking around 42C idle, which is a bit high for a Northwood but, again,
the Vectra case is not a modern ATX case with big fannage front and back. The system has
been stable and I don't overdrive the thing too much.
The final problem was the front power button and HD lights, etc. The original Vectra has
all of the wires from the front power button and lights going into one single plastic
connector and this goes into the pin-outs on the original Vectra MB. Simply looking at the
inside of the case where the wires attached to the button or lights I wrote down on a
piece of paper what wire attached to what. Using some leftover connectors (some came in
singles, 3's 2's etc and using the AOpen's manual pinout diagram (everything is online), I
matched the wires as best I could and labelled them with tape. It ended up that, because
of the differences in motherboard pinouts I was able to only attach the power button and the
ACPI/Pwr LED (the one that stays green when machine is on). I'm not able to see hard drive
activity (either SATA or IDE) or use kbrd lock or stdby blinking. No great loss, I figured
if I could just turn it on that would be enough but I get the added bonus of the power on
I know this has been long but I figured if anyone else is interested in a fun little
project I can tell you that a Vectra VL 600MT Mini Tower CAN be upgraded if you want to
take the time. In the end, the only original parts left are the wires coming from the
front panel, the drive sliders and the box itself. I even took out that odd little boxy
plastic thing at the front in order to give more room for the 120MM fan and better
airflow. I'm writing this posting on the new machine.
I attached a 1TB Aluratek external drive to the ESATA port on the back and this machine makes a pretty
good file server. If I had an overall wireless N system or CAT5 install it would be even
faster but it's decent as it is.
Good Luck to all and thanks for tolerating the length of this diatribe!
06-30-2010 07:06 AM
Thanks Eino I really enjoyed it. The whole time I was thinking that I should just go out and buy a new case but then I thought, I just want to work with what I have on hand. The Linksys wireless card was the only new item--I got in on sale in the Staples bargain bin. I wish I could get that old Vectra quietness back but that's impossible with what I had to work with--those Intel stock coolers (in this case 6 years old) are a bit on the loud side. I probably wouldn't recommend doing the conversion just in terms of the lack of the normal modern case niceties such as front panel USB, airflow, drive attachment etc. It was more something that was inspired by the Vectra case itself. The thing has lots of room, lots of areas of potential upgrading and over the years I was always contemplating doing it--especially now as P4 motherboards from the mid 2000's are going so cheap. I'm sure a true modder could have taken the box and done some real magic with it but my modus operandi was spending the minimum amount possible. Thanks again for your response!